The Context


Out of nature comes a sense of ulti­mate con­text. Writer Gary Fer­gu­son asks:

…who would­n’t feel a twitch of bewil­der­ment to think that 99.99999 per­cent of our body is com­prised of the emp­ty space that exists between the elec­trons, neu­trons, and pro­tons — each one of those an ele­ment of the atoms that give us form. Fur­ther­more, if you got rid of all the space, then the actu­al mass of your body — your “sub­stance” — would be so small you could­n’t even see it. In fact, if we took away all the space in all the bod­ies of every human being on the plan­et, the mass that remained would be about the size of a sug­ar cube.” 

and again

…the fact [is] that you could blast off from Earth on a jour­ney to find the end of space, trav­el a hun­dred thou­sand miles an hour for the next ten thou­sand years, and not be one inch closer.”

It’s enough to want to go look up into the mys­tery and won­der of the stars around us — or at least spend three min­utes and twen­ty-eight sec­onds with the NASA image of Androm­e­da that went up a few years ago.

Ulti­mate con­text, indeed, for all our human squab­bles and wars and love sto­ries, melo­dra­mas, our dis­cov­er­ies and rich accom­plish­ments, our acts of both cru­el­ty and kind­ness, our ulti­mate con­text for any­thing at all that we can know or do. We rest in pro­found mystery.

In the face of this con­text and out of the obscu­ri­ty of my own inner world sud­den­ly comes this ques­tion: Isn’t it just that we want to be okay with our­selves and each oth­er? Isn’t that it? Isn’t that all? and Is that too much to ask? Isn’t every­thing else implied in that?

And yet how hard it seems to pull it off, because such a goal demands we relate — rev­er­ent­ly, I might add — to that ulti­mate dark­ness and to all that makes it up. I think the truth is that we are still not com­fort­able with that lev­el of truth, how­ev­er obvi­ous it may be. It is still awk­ward for us, an embar­rass­ment that our pres­ence, how­ev­er awake we may be indi­vid­u­al­ly or col­lec­tive­ly isn’t more than it is in the face of the great night into which we must final­ly, inevitably dis­ap­pear. We still hold too much of the ter­ror of our insignificance.

We think we must be more. We must count for some­thing. As the alien says in the movie, Con­tact:

You’re an inter­est­ing species, an inter­est­ing mix. You’re capa­ble of such beau­ti­ful dreams and such hor­ri­ble night­mares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our search­ing, the only thing we’ve found that makes the empti­ness bear­able is each other.”

Maybe in appre­ci­at­ing that, maybe we could move beyond our atom­ized, cut off worlds to be a real com­fort and joy to our­selves and others. 

Else, what’s the point?


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